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A Letter to the Middle

I was at a friend’s house a couple of months ago, and we were sitting around a dinner table talking together when I started to feel sick. I’m allergic to most things, so for a while, I thought the problem was just too much dust or cat hair, but then I started to sweat and my brain clouded over. I couldn’t see straight. I couldn’t hear what the others were saying. My stomach swelled and then my liver and kidneys overloaded; it was all I could do not to double over in pain.

I knew what was happening. It had happened many times before. I made my best excuses and got out of the house as fast as I could. Then I just sat in my car, swallowed a handful of pills, and cried. I knew I couldn’t go back to that house, at least not for a long, long time. 

I have mold poisoning, which means that I was exposed to mold in houses and apartments over and over until my natural defenses wore away. Black mold toxins entered my bloodstream and settled in my cells. They wormed into my muscles, clogged up my brain, and collected behind my eyes. I’m not sure when it all started, but I do know that there are so many toxins in my body that I can’t be exposed to anymore without my organs and my brain sounding the alarm bells. If there is any type of mold in someone’s house, my body will scream at me until I’m out in the open air again, and I will feel the effects for days or weeks afterward.

Over the last five months, I’ve been barred from concerts, game nights, seminars, movie nights, hangouts, and dinners. I’ve taken hundreds of pills and gone to a handful of doctors and tried everything I could think of. I’ve sat in my room, trying to get rest, as my body fights battles and loses them and fights battles and wins them and then fights and loses again. Someday it will get better, but the timeline is uncertain.

I hate it. It was hard when it started, the first time my stomach swelled and my head pounded and my body cooked up a fever that never seemed to end. Months later, it’s still just as hard as it was when this whole journey began, except now I’m even more tired. But contrary to how it may seem, this post is not just a lament. It is also a letter of gratitude.

About two months ago, my health got significantly worse. It came out of nowhere. I had been doing my best to stay on my feet, to not ask for help, to not need anybody. I was still working full-time and tearing up in bathrooms and behind closed doors where no one could see me. And then, my ability to pretend to be okay ran out. One Sunday morning, I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t take care of myself. It wasn’t safe for me to drive.

I sent a voice message to a group of my friends. I didn’t even know what to ask for. I just said I needed help; within hours, they arrived in force.

They made me hot tea, cooked me dinner, watched movies with me on the couch, and held me when I started to cry. They were kind and understanding and I had no choice but to lean on them. They got me through that week and I went back to work. I was feverish and fragile but I was making it, until a few nights later when I went to watch a friend play piano.

The moment I walked into the building, I could tell that I wasn’t supposed to be there. The air was thick and close. The walls were tattered and tired and oozing mold. I tried to stand near a window, stay away from the walls and the air conditioning units, anything to allow me to stay there. Instead, within 20 minutes, I could feel my organs betraying me and I had to leave.

That little bit of mold was the last straw. I called my parents the next day. I was too sick to live on my own. I bought a plane ticket, packed a bag, and then sat on the floor of my bathroom and cried. I went to tell my friends and cried some more. I told them I was angry, that I was tired of this thing running my life. I told them I had stopped praying because asking God to fix it just made me angry. Every time I asked for healing, he told me no.

They prayed with me and held me, and when I went home they sent me letters and called me to make sure I was okay. When I returned to Nashville, they were here to welcome me back. My friends and my family gave me hope.

I’ve lost hope again since then. I lose hope about once a week now, and every time when I run out of energy and I can’t face it by myself, my family and friends are there. Although there are rooms I can’t walk into and times I am frustrated and exhausted, they have loved me, and it has helped me hold together. More than that, it has made me realize that while I am not yet healed from mold poisoning, I may be healing from the need to do everything on my own.

If I were perfectly well and capable, if I could cook for myself, if I could keep my heart calm and hope for healing in a vacuum, maybe I wouldn’t recognize my need for community. But I’ve found healing through the presence and prayers of those around me. Because I was struggling, I was forced to reach for help, and when I did, some hands reached back. 

I’m not grateful for all of it. Maybe someday I will be, but right now, I can’t see the ending. There isn’t an easy path forward, at least one I can see, and that’s okay. I’m telling a hard and beautiful story, one in which I’m still in the middle.

I’m not going to say that I am grateful for the pain and the exhaustion. Nor am I going to say how I’ve learned how to need people and recognize my limits and that I’m glad that this physical evidence of darkness found its way into my body. If I’m honest, I am still angry. I’m angry at the time I’ve lost and have yet to lose. Yet at the same time, I have never felt more loved in my life.

Evil is not meant to be fought alone. Darkness cannot be pushed back with a fragile pair of hands. I thought I was strong enough to keep trudging along on my own, but I’m not and that is a blessed realization. If I had never run out of my own prayers, I would’ve never asked others to pray for me. If I had never run out of energy and willpower, I would’ve never asked others to walk beside me. I have been told all my life that I am not meant to walk through life on my own strength. I have been told to lean on God and others, yet I have always smiled and nodded and tried to forge on alone. That is until I couldn’t, until I was forced to recognize my limits and forced to let those who love me fill in the gaps. And in between the tears and the pills and the wondering, I am thankful.

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